Physiotherapy for Autism and Developmental Delays

Physiotherapy can play a very important role in both early childhood intervention and ongoing therapeutic intervention for people with autism and other developmental delays and challenges.

As part of Brain Train’s commitment to providing an integrated network of therapies to help children and adults with autism, neurodevelopmental and neurological challenges to thrive. Our physiotherapy practice focuses on improving the function of clients who have suffered physical impairment caused by neurological and musculoskeletal conditions. Our physiotherapists have experience working with children and adults with complex needs and have a special interest in Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilisation (DNS) approaches.

Our physiotherapists emphasise the importance of the deep muscle stabilising system for optimal movement patterns. This system has a ‘feed-forward mechanism’, which means that the brain triggers this system to automatically activate prior to any movement. If this system is not functioning as it should, this compromises any movement that you purposefully make and can impact the efficiency of motor movement patterns and potentially lead to both functional and musculoskeletal impairments.

Areas that we can help with include:

• Screening and assessment for developmental delays;
• Activate / reactivate dormant global motor patterns;
• Gait analysis and retraining;
• Injury assessment and rehabilitation;
• Using unique approaches to enhance developmental and neurological challenges – where the induced movements are controlled by the higher centers of the central nervous system, providing faster and longer-lasting improvement of function, and movement patterns;
• Pain relief

What is Early Intervention?

Early childhood intervention programs provide specialised support for children under seven who may not be reaching their developmental milestones. The early childhood years lay the foundation for all future development and learning, so getting support early can make a huge difference later in life. Early Intervention is vital, which is why the NDIS promotes early intervention as best practice, regardless of whether a child has a formal diagnosis or not.

How can physiotherapy help with Autism?

Physiotherapists can provide unique assistance to parents who suspect developmental delay, as they can identify movement and developmental disorders prior to a formal ASD diagnosis.  Of additional benefit to parents in this situation, NDIS funding can be made available for early intervention therapy services such as physiotherapy, through the NDIS Early Intervention Approach. A physiotherapist can complete a developmental assessment and provide a range of therapeutic interventions to help young children with developmental and milestone delays. And we know that the earlier a child can access therapeutic intervention, the better.

What are the signs of developmental delay in young children and toddlers?

Not meeting developmental milestones at the expected age. Examples include not yet rolling, not reaching for toys across the midline of the body, not sitting independently, not crawling, standing or walking at the appropriate age (including bypassing crawling all together and going straight to walking). 

Unusual movement patterns – including bottom-shuffling, W-sitting, non-typical crawling style, hyper-extended joints and mobility

Musculoskeletal issues including club feet, flat feet, bowed legs, pigeon toes, hip issues, hyper-flexibility or very tight muscles.

What is the importance of identifying and addressing developmental delays?

Recent research has confirmed that developmental motor delays during early childhood may provide a marker for autism spectrum disorder, before diagnosis. This means a Physiotherapist is ideally placed to identify movement and developmental delays before children are diagnosed with ASD, or identified at risk of ASD, which directs earlier intervention. As reported, ‘having access to effective intervention during childhood is an important element of the intervention pathway for children on the autism spectrum, providing an opportunity to support early development and promote longer-term quality of life’ (Whitehouse et al 2020).

What if my child has been diagnosed with Autism?

Once a child with developmental delays has a diagnosis for Autism, paediatric physiotherapy provides significant ongoing benefits. The Australian Physiotherapy Association’s Paediatric group has published five discussion points about physiotherapy in children with autism, which highlight the multiple areas of support they can offer:

  1. Movement difficulties are highly prevalent in children with ASD – citing a range of research which aligns with Brain Train’s therapeutic supports. Research detailed here 
  2. Physical activity is lower in children with ASD and interventions are effective 
  3. Physiotherapists can identify movement disorders prior to ASD diagnosis
  4. Physiotherapy improves motor outcomes in children with ASD – a concept that is also aligned with Brain Train’s research and our sensorimotor intervention
  5. Physiotherapy can improve sports participation and activity goals.

What should I do next?

If your young child has not met each of their developmental milestones in a timely manner, a physiotherapist can assess whether your child has a developmental delay and if appropriate, design supports to improve developmental health and progress which could include a multidisciplinary approach incorporating physiotherapy, occupational therapy and orthotics.

In addition to early intervention and autism, Brain Train’s paediatric physiotherapists can also provide therapies for children with any of these diagnoses:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Global developmental Delay
  • Brain Injury (congenital or acquired)
  • Spina Bifida
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Hip Dysplasia

What is the Brain Train Approach to Physiotherapy?

At Brain Train, we take a synergetic approach to empowering people with Autism and Developmental Delays to live their best lives.

What we mean by that is we tailor a therapeutic approach for each individual child, combining the best of Multi-Disciplinary Therapies including Physiotherapy, with our signature Sensorimotor Program.

This unique approach is built upon three primary insights:

  • All of us, and especially children, are most motivated and engaged when we are having fun. So, we embed a play-based approach into everything we do. When we are playing, we are having fun, which significantly increases motivation, engagement, and progress. We believe our clients deserve to LOVE their time with us.
  • People with autism and neuro-developmental differences are impacted by various combinations of sensory, gross, and fine motor dysfunction. Our sensorimotor program provides our clients with the foundation required for sensory integration, motor control and improved neurological efficiency.
  • A more efficient neural foundation compliments and enhances our multidisciplinary supports, encompassing speech & language, occupational therapy, behavioural supports, physiotherapy and exercise physiology. Sensorimotor and Multi-Disciplinary therapies work together, complimenting and enhancing the impact of each, for a truly holistic approach.

We have paediatric Physiotherapists available in all our centres now, who focus every day on supporting children with Autism and Developmental Delay, and their families.